November 7, 2012
The violence in Dubrajpur in Bengal’s Birbhum district by villagers protesting against land acquisition by a private coal mining company has a strong resemblance to similar campaigns in Singur and Nandigram. Like in those two places, here too suspected Naxalite activists played a key role and joined hands with a range of political outfits in the ‘Krishi Jomi Raksha Committee’ (KJRC) or Save Agricultural Land Committee that led the protests.
However, in a significant difference, the local unit of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress is sharply divided over the controversy. While one faction of the party is with the KJRC, another is said to have been helping the mining firm acquire land. This faction was regularly interacting with the firm’s officials at their office in Dubrajpur which has been closed since mid-September.
Hundreds of villagers armed with bows, arrows and crude bombs had attacked a police contingent in Loba village near Dubrajpur in the early hours of Tuesday when they went there to remove earth-moving equipment of the mining firm, Bengal EMTA. The equipment was used by Bengal EMTA for excavation about a year ago but had been lying idle after the villagers protested. More than 25 policemen were injured and some villagers claimed to have suffered bullet injuries.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday denied the police had opened fire but ordered an administrative inquiry into the incident. She described the incident as “unfortunate” and said the villagers were provoked by outside elements. The inquiry will reveal who provoked the villagers, she added. “The state government is with the villagers and the state government’s declared policy is not to acquire land for private parties. The villagers were not at fault because some of them were provoked,” Banerjee said.
On Wednesday, when The Indian Express visited Loba, the villagers had dug trenches across the main roads leading to the village to stop police and other officials from entering – a repeat of the tactics used in Nandigram. KJRC members and some other villagers were well-prepared for Tuesday’s trouble as they had stocked bows, arrows, crude bombs and some other traditional weapons as they had been tipped off about the police action, sources said.
Many villagers whose land had been acquired were unhappy with their compensation and had held on to the earth-moving equipment for the last 11 months, hoping to force Bengal EMTA into fresh deals. KJRC leader Asish Mishra said that Naxalite group CPI (ML) and other political groups such as the Party for Democratic Socialism were present in the village and were part of the protests for the last three years.
Bengal EMTA had proposed to acquire 3,353 acres of land spread over 11 villages and a population of 20,000 for the open-cast mine project. But villagers alleged that there was no proper rehabilitation planned for the displaced and claimed that they had raised this about four months back when state commerce and industry minister Partha Chatterjee visited the area. Chatterjee had reportedly promised to take up the issue with the mining firm. The minister visited Loba again Wednesday and promised the villagers he would take up the issue with Bengal EMTA.
A company official, however, said there was no room for new negotiations on the price paid for the land. The company has so far paid Rs 4 lakh per acre of river-bank land, Rs 8 lakh per acre of one-crop farmland, and Rs 10 lakh per acre of multi-crop farmland. It has acquired 500 acres from private owners and another 200 acres from the government. The company would abandon the project but not renegotiate the land price, said the official who did not want to be identified.
Is the chief minister of West Bengal is being haunted by the spectre of Singur-Nandigram? If her knee jerk reaction to the yesterday’s development at Birbhum’s Dubrajpur is any indication; then Mamata Banerjee is indeed palpably nervous at the mention of Singur and Nandigram by some opposition people in this context. Today she held an impromptu press conference she claimed that the question of comparing the Dubrajpur development with Singur and Nandigram does not arise at all. “Here, the innocent villagers raised some issues with the company which must be looked into sympathetically. The government is determined to protect them,” said the chief minister.
Yesterday, the police had fired upon a group of villagers at a village at Dubrajpur where workers of Bengal Emta, a private company engaged in coal mining business went to start work on their new open coal mine. The coal mine is to supply to DVC for its thermal power plant. When the villagers chased away the Bengal Emta people, a large contingent of policemen led by the Birbhum police super Hrisikesh Meena went there. According to the police, they were attacked with bows and arrows by the villagers and two policemen sustained serious injuries from arrow wound. The police then fire to disperse the mob. However, as the news was flashed by news channels and some politicians started comparing it with Singur-Nandigram, the chief minister immediately swung into action. Her immediate reaction was to suspend and transfer the police super.
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Today, she tried to distance herself from the Dubrajpur incident by claiming that the police had acted on its own and she was not kept informed of the development. “We are a government of Ma-Maati-Manush, and will continue to stand by the poor villagers as ever. The villagers are innocent. They were incited by some interested party and it’s a conspiracy against us,” said Mamata. At the same breath she denied that police resorted to firing, “Despite tremendous provocation, the police showed restrain and did not open fire. For that, I am indeed thankful to the police.” But then why the police super was suspended and shunted out of the district? There was no explanation available from the administration for that.
But the opposition parties have rushed to the spot to stoke fire into the disgruntled villagers mind. Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjee, a son of the soil, has gone to Suri district hospital and visited the injured villagers there.
While CPI (M) MPs Ramchandra Dom and Bangshagopal Chowdhury led a delegation to the Dubrajpur village, BJP sent another delegation to the village. The chief minister said that she had asked her senior minister Partha Chatterjee to go to the spot, but after holding a meeting with the district magistrate Partha came back without visiting the village.
Five years back riding on the anti-Left peasant movement in Singur and Nandigram Mamata Banerjee came to the fore which ultimately catapulted her to the power.
Dubrajpur’s peasants resisted the opening of the coal mines by Bengal Emta demanding a higher price for the land acquired by the government, a demand reminiscent of the Singur movement.
Mamata is alarmed because of that and that is why she is hell bent upon in resisting any attempt to invoke the memory of Singur-Nandigram in this context.